Fellow Baltimoreans, not a day goes by in which we are not reminded of the struggles faced by our young Black men. Many solutions have been proffered and offered and, while there are many success stories, the number of lost souls is multiplying exponentially. Perhaps the solutions address the symptoms, and not the cause...perhaps we fail to capitalize upon what is in order to actualize what should be. Perhaps that which we can't beat, we should join and co-opt -- like our young men's self-perception as "gangstas."
We are spiritual beings having a physical experience. This is a principle that remains in full effect whether or not we choose to believe in it, much like gravity. This means that as human beings, our entire existence is a spiritual exercise, making spirituality the single most important aspect of that existence. Spirituality is most often perceived as a state of passive peacefulness, marked by soft voice tones and deep breathing, drinking fruit juice and eating vegetables, and meditating to the light of burning candles and the aroma of burning incense. While these are indeed spiritual practices, this is not what defines spirituality. The spirituality of a person is defined by the motivation for the choices he or she makes in life and the impact of those choices upon him- or herself and others.
The political, economic, cultural, social and physical environment of American cities like Baltimore in which the Black man develops today can defensibly be likened to one of warfare. War is when two or more sides seek to destroy each other and/or control the resources of the other(s). Because all human existence is spiritual, then this war-like existence must be one of spiritual warfare. Therefore, the target of destruction -- and the nature of the resources over which control is sought -- must also be spiritual.
The self- and global perception of the Black American man perpetuated by the contemporary American political, economic, cultural, social and physical environment is one of a “thug,” and the ideal of this thug persona is that of a “gangsta.” A gangster is person who seizes control of the material resources of others and maintains that control by any means necessary. The nature of the spiritual war being waged against all Americans -- but African American men in particular -- is the redirection of life’s priority from the spiritual to the material and the redefinition of power from the control of self to the control of others.
The pursuit of self-validation externally, assertive/aggressive social behavior and the desperate need to belong are natural parts of the male adolescent human experience and should be guided rather than condemned. To fight this war effectively, then, let's consider focusing on helping young Black men become “spiritual gangstas” – a man who seizes control of his own spiritual resources and maintains that control by any means necessary.
A spiritual gangsta would arm himself with a clear and empowering relationship with God; knowledge of his ethnic, cultural and philosophical history; and a sociological understanding of his American experience. These mental and psychological weapons can be assembled with a warrior's spirit and can result in a spiritual warrior's mentality: a philosophical perception of reality resulting in self-mastery and a commitment to aggressively regain control of the personal resources currently being lost in this spiritual war. Perhaps our young men can't hear our prayers or chants because we're speaking too softly. Perhaps our young men can't see our strength because its manifesting too much within the confines of our temples and churches. Spirituality can honestly be cast as a fight, not something faint; as a weapon, not a weakness. Perhaps it's time to snuff the candles, douse the incense, and put up a stiffer fight for our children's spiritual existence.